Why Canadian seniors healthcare needs a different tax policy

Tax policies out of tune

Bury is a retired physician living in Saskatoon.

Candace Skrapek of the Saskatoon Council on Aging (Seniors’ strategy solution to Sask. long-term care, Dec. 19) argues there must be much more to be done than putting out the fires in long-term nursing homes if our seniors are to have a healthy and positive aging process.

Prof. Paulette Hunter (Frontline staff needs supports, Dec. 19) points out we have not provided the range of health personnel beyond continuing-care assistants who are required to support residents with complex cognitive issues and other disabilities.

In the early 1970s, then-deputy minister of health Dr. Louis Skoll studied the care of the elderly in Europe and wrote a report, Adding Life to Years, in which he recommended many actions that would improve the level of care in Saskatchewan.

One result of his report was the building of community nursing homes in the province, leading to Saskatchewan having the highest per capita number of nursing homes in Canada. He noted, and we observed while on a Canadian Public Health Association tour in 1986, there were approximately three times more staff per resident in Scandinavian care homes than in Canada.

If we want improved care for seniors in this province, we need a much more intensive homecare service. The current pilot program Home First fits the bill and must be expanded to cover the whole province. Most of us want to remain at home and most of us would prefer to die at home.

Achieving this will be expensive, for it will require more personnel. However, in the long run it will be less costly than providing nursing-home care and will eliminate the long-stay patients who currently block acute-care beds.

But some of the needed personnel are not available. At a time of declining birthrates and increasing numbers of elderly, we discovered for every medical student who contemplates becoming a geriatrician, there are 10 or more looking to become obstetricians or pediatricians.

What is the magic that results in a much fuller and happier life for the elderly in Scandinavia than in Canada?

Canada and these countries have similar economic development and average income, but we have a tax system that makes the rich richer. We tax income earned by work at a higher level than we tax income obtained by gambling on the stock market. This results in Canada having a much wider income gap than Scandinavia.

Under this structure we are always struggling to fund social programs such as health and education. Until we correct our maldistribution of income, wealth and assets – a subject hardly mentioned by any of the political parties in the current run up to general election – it is unlikely Saskatchewan will be able to afford the resources necessary to create that age-friendly community wished for by the Saskatoon Council on Aging.

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